Veterans Aid

The Tweed Challenge

The Tweed Challenge is a bid by two inexperienced kayakers to navigate 97 miles of the famous Scottish river to raise funds for Veterans Aid.

Its aim is to help VA  prevent ex-servicemen and women in crisis from becoming street homeless – and providing an immediate way out for those who are. 


*To make donations to The Tweed Challenge in aid of Veterans Aid go to Nick and Jamie’s JUST GIVING page and click   HERE.


How it all began . . . .  A meeting on the touchline of a rugby match, while cheering on their sons five years ago, led to an unexpected outcome for a 49-year-old Scottish businessman and a 46-year-old army officer.

Over a recent lunch, investment manager Jamie M and Lieutenant Colonel Nick Woolgar hatched a plan that would transform them from spectator status to centre stage of an ambitious personal challenge, to raise funds for homeless veterans.

Career soldier Nick was commissioned into the 1721st Lancers (whose motto was ‘Death or Glory’) in 1991. Over 27 years he served on many operations but identifies leading an infantry platoon on peacekeeping operations in Bosnia in 1994,

commanding a Challenger tank squadron on operations in 2004 and leading a capacity building team in Somalia last year as personal highpoints. Today he still has a taste for adventure and admits to “floating the idea of a challenge for two guys rapidly approaching 50” to raise funds for a worthwhile cause. Jamie responded by conceiving The Tweed Challenge.

The two men shared a deep unease about the plight of the many rough sleepers they had seen and a particular concern about the fact that some were ex-servicemen. “It upset us both,” explained Jamie.

“Last year I walked the streets of London with colleagues from my office distributing support packages to homeless people. Afterwards I felt motivated to do something more. Nick and I wanted to do something innovative and also physically challenge ourselves – but more importantly something that would motivate our friends and contacts to support our effort and make a positive impact on homelessness.”

For Nick as an army officer the issue was more personal, “I want to make a difference for those ex-servicemen who, for whatever reason, have fallen on hard times and need a helping hand. They have kept us safe in our beds.  We want to do the same for them.”

The charity they decided to support, through their fundraising challenge, was Veterans Aid.

“This was a big decision for us,” explained Jamie.  “Prior to approaching VA, we studied the charity and its management team. We concluded that they were a very high-quality group of professionals, doing something special in a crowded charity environment. They have disciplined processes; tremendous transparency and they really care about helping veterans out of difficult situations. They do a lot more than ensuring ‘no first night out’ and what they have achieved in recent years is truly impressive.”

The ‘challenge’ the men set themselves was no easy one! Lack of experience notwithstanding, they have decided to kayak 97 miles along the temperamental River Tweed, a deceptively calm looking waterway that can turn treacherous and has caught many people by surprise.


Already in training, their journey will take place between 10 – 16 June 2018, starting at the source of the River Tweed at Tweedswell high in the hills and ending at its mouth at the North Sea coastal town of Berwick-Upon-Tweed.

Jamie said, “My concern is river conditions. The Tweed can be brutal and easily rise 10 feet or more in 24 hours after heavy rain. It can become dangerous after rising just two feet.

“We will paddle hard when it’s safe and try to get out of the way of floating trees and debris on any big flood water. During the dates of last year’s Tweed Challenge the river had a big flood so we need to hope for decent conditions.”

Only slightly daunted by lack of experience Jamie is slowly getting to grips with the difference between a canoe and a kayak, plus the need to significantly improve his strength and lose 15lbs in weight.

Undeterred by his children’s view that he is ‘too fat to do it”, Jamie is already well into his preparation regime. The pair started training in February on the Hampshire stretch of the River Avon near Salisbury. “It’s tiny compared to The Tweed,” said Jamie, “but a great place to learn how to paddle for the first time.”

Certainly, the men need to be fit. “If conditions are kind we should finish the trip in seven days or less,” he predicts. “By the time we start the Tweed Challenge we will have completed a series of three-hour kayak training sessions, covering around three miles a session. We’re planning to be on the Tweed river about eight hours a day, so you can see that a lot of training needs to be done!”

Nick too owns up to not being as fit as he would like but adds, “Our training programme will beat us into shape before June. It’s a mixture of on and off the water training – ‘off the water’ training is about building strength and endurance; ‘on the water’ is about improving skill and efficiency.  In the Army we say, ‘train hard, fight easy’ and that’s exactly what we intend to do!”

On the issue of mishaps Nick is unequivocal, “I am super confident. Failure is not an option. There are ex-serviceman out there who are relying on us. As usual, my family think I’m mad – but no-one can knock raising money for such a worthy cause.”

CEO of Veterans Aid, Wing Commander Dr Hugh Milroy, said, “When Jamie first contacted me with this proposal I was stunned; these are men with serious commitments and responsible jobs; they could have simply made a donation. Their determination to challenge themselves to raise funds for us is impressive, but it’s also an indication of how much they share our passion for ensuring that no ex-serviceman or woman should spend even a single night sleeping on the streets. We are delighted to have them on board and hope they get the support that they deserve.”

*To make donations to The Tweed Challenge in aid of Veterans Aid go to Nick and Jamie’s JUST GIVING page and click   HERE.




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